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Data collected from E-ZPasses poses some privacy concer... Data collected from E-ZPasses poses some privacy concerns (MPD01605, Flickr).
Every once in a while, the Internet rumor mongers start circulating claims that toll payment transponders can be used against tracked drivers for speeding.

So far, the rumors are simply rumors. But privacy experts warn that it's just a matter of time before some cash-strapped state looks at the giant pool of data E-ZPass, EZ TAG, FasTrak, I-Pass and other companies are collecting on drivers daily, and sees dollar signs.

"The concerns about E-ZPass tracking are certainly justified," said Daniel Solove, a professor at George Washington University Law School and author of Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security. "Current laws are ill-equipped to handle the issues."

In England, they use a series of cameras to track driver speeds. There are 1,100 cameras in 500 spots, reading vehicle registration numbers. Speeding offenders are tagged in the system, and their data is sent to police who then mail out speeding tickets.

In the wake of the biggest recession since the Great Depression, state and local governments are struggling to make ends meet. No one tracks how much revenue is made annually from speeding tickets, but it's estimated to be a multi-million dollar business. The National Motorists Association estimates that 25 million to 50 million speeding tickets are issued each year. Assuming each ticket costs $150, total revenue ranges from $3.75 billion to $7.5 billion annually.

Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electric Frontier Foundation, a consumer group that fights back against digital privacy incursions, said it's possible that governments could start relying on toll transponders to boost speeding ticket revenue. But it would be unpopular.

"Turning transponders into speeding ticket generators would create some backlash," he said.

But governments willing to endure the potential backlash stand to reap significant gains in this easy system of ticket issuance.

You're Already Being Tracked

By signing up for E-ZPass and other toll services, you're handing over your address, car registration information, and credit card digits in exchange for the ability to slow down minimally while driving through tolls. In the 14 states where E-ZPass operates, traffic has certainly freed up along toll roads, compared with 15 years ago when everyone had to stop to hand over their loose change. On busy weekends, tolls could add hours to a road trip.

The move to electronic tolling has also helped the environment, argues Frank McCartney, president of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, because there are fewer cars decelerating, accelerating and idling on the roads.

E-ZPass operates through its governing body, a consortium of 24 toll agencies in the 14 states that offer the technology. Almost 3/4 of all vehicles traveling through E-ZPass tolls use the little prepaid boxes.

Toll agencies already collect data from the transponders, but authorities say that data helps drivers. Authorities measure the speed of cars between E-ZPass readers to see how traffic is moving on some parts of the road. The data can tell drivers how long it will take to reach their destination or if there is traffic ahead.

"We're clocking to give people more information," said Judie Glave, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York.

Toll transponders have given up criminals, after police gleaned data from the trackers to follow drivers' steps. And since there are very few laws that keep states from using toll payment devices to issue speeding citations, it may just be a matter of time before tickets start arriving in drivers' mailboxes.

It's not mandatory to own an E-ZPass box, so people who feel the need to speed or commit other crimes could always opt to pay tolls the old-fashioned way.

Tom Levin, a Princeton professor specializing in media theory and surveillance, says Americans are already accustomed to giving up their rights when they fly. We hand over our private data for convenience all the time, he says.

"In Germany the default setting is: You can do nothing with my data unless I tell you otherwise," he says. "In the United States, the default setting is you can do everything with my data until I tell you otherwise."

Opting Out

Levin believes all the data collection is resulting in a data-driven police state. Data "is being gathered on your constantly, against your wishes," he said.

Beyond paying for tolls in cash, there are other ways to opt out. Texas offers an "unregistered" version of its TxTag, and E-ZPass On The Go can be purchased for cash, used like a normal E-ZPass but untraceable to your credit card information.

But people using credit cards, the Internet, or cellphones, needs to decide how much data they are comfortable sharing about themselves.

"What they're doing is testing how much you're willing to put up with," Levin said. "And if you're willing to put up with that form of invasiveness, it's trivial to move to the next stage."

Time will tell if the government thinks it's trivial to move from tracking traffic patterns with toll transponders to issuing speeding tickets with the same technology. AOL Autos will be watching.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just follow the law and you won't have a problem.
        • 3 Years Ago
        They followed the law in Nazi Germany...wanna re-think that position?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Just do what the government says and you won't need any civil liberties! WRONG
      • 3 Years Ago
      it's too late. we're trapped in this system of lunacy. the days of privacy are long past. cameras every where, electronic devices that can be tracked, traced and spied on, cars and phones and who knows what else with gps - we're all tagged, tracked and trailed where ever we go. it's only a matter of time before new born babies are injected with microscopic chips that can be used to track them through life before they're handed over to their mothers. it's an unnatural, artificial and fake world we're heading for, and i'm glad i won't be around when it reaches full fruition. it'll be a living night mare.
      Cardwell Family
      • 3 Years Ago
      Privacy is one thing, breaking the law is another; just drive within the legal speed limits and nothing will happen.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Cardwell Family
        Sorry, but speed limits are set artifically low solely for the purpose of revenue generation. If we were really concerned with safety we would worry a lot less about someone going 15 over in a 70 and a lot more on those driving like morons, running on bald tires, etc., or those impeeding traffic which cuases more accidents than speeding. We would also put some teeth into drivers ed. There is a reason people can run at 120+ in Germany and have a far lower acciednt rate, as just one example.
          • 3 Years Ago
          The autobahns in Germany are also engineered for those speeds as are the automobiles. The German cars sold in th US don't have the same specs as their counterparts sold in Germany. They don't have to be engineered to handle 140+ mph speeds. The curves on an autobahn are much less severe and are banked. If you are traveling at 140 in the 3rd lane and someone is coming up on you, you must pull over in enough time to let them pass without breaking; or you are subject to a ticket for obstructing traffic and creating an unsafe situation. Yes, they have less accidents; but when the do; they are spectacular, in the same way that when the deer destryrd the car from the inside in the movie, Tommy Boy, was: and, as Chris Farley said, "Sorry about your car, Richard: but that was AWESOME!!!".
      • 3 Years Ago
      If they start using the easy-pass system to monitor anything other than the payment of tolls i will probably stop usin g the pass.
        • 3 Years Ago
        and how will you know when you're being monitored for any thing else? do you think they'll knock on your door for a friendly after noon of tea and talking to let you know what they're up to?
      • 3 Years Ago
      Being disabled with deterioating health doesn't seem so bad - I'll be dead before the police state takeover is complete..
      • 3 Years Ago
      My daughter turned 16 last month and there was just no way we could afford to add her to our existing car insurance policy. I started shopping around for new car insurance and found this site: ( http://tinyurl.com/FreeRateReport ) I just put in my ZIP code and received four quotes instantly after filling out the form. By comparing rates we were actually able to include my daughter in our new policy and not pay anymore per month for car insurance than we were originally paying for just me and my wife!
      • 3 Years Ago
      no sh@t, this has been known.....and if you dont use ezpass or ipass, they'll charge you twice as much through every toll. they got you either way. Big Brother whether you like it or not. Only took 200+ yrs to loose our country.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I believe that there is great potential for the government authorities to feel entitled to use/abuse these types of devices for monetary gain. It wouldn't be a very "free" feeling, even if you're not doing anything wrong, like driving in front of a police vehicle -- if an officer follows you long enough, he could come up with something to cite you for, and if money is the motivator, watch out. About three weeks ago, a woman in Wash. DC had her phone "legally" confiscated by the police for videotaping a struggle between the police and someone they were apprehending in Chinatown; she received her phone back 5 days later, with the video deleted from her phone, because it was considered "police evidence." If you would like to circumvent the authorities confiscating videos of possible police brutality or unethical behavior, sign up for a service called CLOUD, I don't know the specifics, but it essentially live-streams the video from your phone to the internet in real-time, and it should be implemented so abuse of authority and/or police brutality can't be covered -up.
      • 3 Years Ago
      sure, go ahead boneheads, keep using face book - twit'r, etc..... isn't it great? NOT. For every 1 precieved (and the key word is "PRECIEVED") "isn't it great" benifit to you all this "social" and "everyday" technology is ..... I can point out numerous, and vastly out numbering governmental tracking, loss of freedoms, and general subversive use that could actually one day be used to arrest people who "buck the accpted system" in just about any manner any government or agency of the govt. chooses to declair someone is doing anything wrong or socially unacceptable ..... think that's not going to happen??? then you are already the perfect accepting subject - By the time the unsuspecting or doubters catch on ....... well it's way to late and the train has long, long left the station .... and the pedal is already to the metal as we post
      • 3 Years Ago
      ..................................................................It's none of your phoken business!
      • 3 Years Ago
      What article does not mention and what is greatest abuse of this system is that EZPass system have allowed both private corporation and later NYC administration access to the system so that both third commercial parties and NYC have installed their own EZPass readers along NYC roads NOT for the purpose of the toll payments but specifically for tracking the traffic. Without asking people who pay for this service for their permission. Clear abuse.
      • 3 Years Ago
      'ebibiz" "com t s h i r t s -12 s h o e s -35 b i k i n i -17 'ebibiz" com
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